A Christian ministry and a family therapist have had a major victory over a Florida city’s ban on what’s often referred to as conversion therapy.
A federal appeals court struck down Tampa’s prohibition on trying to change one’s sexual orientation.
The court supported the New Hearts Outreach and therapist Robert Vazzo who sued the city over its ban on counselors providing voluntary therapy to minors seeking help with unwanted same-sex attractions.
The ban was based on the view that sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic and a protected class.
But the court ruled that city and county ordinances banning Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) were unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
It drew heavily on a previous ruling referred to as Otto that found similar bans in Palm Beach County and the City of Boca Raton were unconstitutional.
In that ruling, a judge refuted the term conversion therapy as “made-up” and said that activists and the media frequently used it.
The order said in part that related cases have generically referred to the therapy as SOCE while the ordinance uses the term conversion therapy.
It concluded: “neither term is entirely accurate.”
In the latest decision, a three-judge panel determined: “The City of Tampa’s SOCE ordinance here is substantively the same as the ordinances at issue in Otto.”
The court ruled that the ordinance seeking to regulate counselors’ efforts was a statewide concern and beyond the authority of local governments.
Thus, the ruling permanently struck down the ordinance under the First Amendment.
“This is a great victory for counselors and their clients,” said Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver after its lawyers represented the plaintiffs.
“Counselors and clients have the freedom to choose the counsel of their choice and be free of political censorship from government-mandated speech.”
More than 20 US states have banned conversion therapy.
The US Supreme Court has so far declined to hear challenges to the bans.